Translated by Alice Menzies — The key to a really good serial killer thriller is a dark foreboding atmosphere and this novel has it in abundance. When you read The Mirror Man you feel the temperature plummet. The bestselling Swedish writing duo Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and husband Alexander Ahndoril – AKA Lars Kepler – have been producing some of the scariest Scandinavian crime fiction since their debut The Hypnotist in 2011. Eight novels into the Joona Linna series their blend of chills and psychological drama still gives you goosebumps.
Stockholm schoolgirl Eleonor has a crush on her classmate Jenny and is a little jealous of her confidence too. They are both 16 but Jenny seems so much more sophisticated and comfortable in her own skin. After gym Eleonor follows Jenny home, keeping her distance, afraid to approach her. Suddenly a truck mounts the pavement behind Jenny and when Eleonor gets a sight of her classmate again she’s lying on the ground, dazed. The driver picks her up and bundles her into the lorry. He drives off before Eleonor can react.
Jenny comes to and manages to break her bonds, when the vehicle stops she jumps out and makes a run for it. In a cruel twist of fate she runs into a traffic cop who instead of saving her hands her back to her captor when the driver claims to be her father, accusing her of being drunk. The police investigation goes nowhere. It’s already tense and gripping.
Just a few days later, Pamela, her daughter Alice, and partner Martin are on a ski holiday. Pamela stays in the hotel for a sauna and massage treatment while Martin and Alice head out to the icy lake for a fishing expedition. While she’s being pampered Pamela gets a call from the hospital saying something has happened. They won’t tell her what but she needs to come urgently. Rushing there the staff are quick to inform her that Martin is alright, he’s recovering from falling into the ice-cold waters. It’s alright, a lucky escape. When she asks about Alice they are surprised, no one had any idea that Martin wasn’t on his own. Alice must have fallen though the ice too. There’s no trace when the police go back to the scene and Martin can’t remember what happened.
Five years later, Pamela collects Martin from the psychiatric hospital. The trauma of that day has caught up with him. Pamela, who has suffered deeply in her own way, has taken in an orphan in the meantime. Mia is 17, roughly the age Alice would be now. Martin, Pamela and Mia seem happy but the newly formed family is about to be drawn back into the terrible events of five years previous.
Jenny is still alive but it’s a living hell. And she’s not alone in her suffering. Jenny and Frida are planning to escape. That means evading Granny’s watchful eye as she monitors the girls when Caesar isn’t around. They are constantly spied upon, abused and mistreated. There are punishments for every perceived act of defiance or wilful display of character. However, Frida panics and makes a break for it before they can execute the plan properly and she’s caught in the act. What follows is nightmarish but Jenny is more determined than ever to make her break. Soon she will try again, this time on her own.
Detective Joona Linna is head of the national crime unit. There are ongoing issues from previous books in his personal life. He has problems with his estranged daughter and blames himself for that. During the last eight months he has been trying to catch a killer known as The Beaver with little success. He’s about to inherit anther challenging case.
A passerby stumbles across the horrifying scene of a young woman hanging from a tree in a children’s park, cruelly displayed. As Joona Linna and the team investigating it becomes clear there are other victims out there, and some of them are alive. The race to save them from a sadistic abuser killer is on. There are plenty of twists and shocks for us along the way.
For a serial killer thriller to work these days it has to display an understanding of the psychological complex make up of the killer/killers and get that across without making us feel like we are lying on a psychiatrist’s sofa. It has to be sensitive and alert to the consequences of violence and the plight of the victim. It’s not just about thrills. The Mirror Man archives these things. The female victims have their own character and agency.
While knowing less exploitative, this novel is still loaded with danger and fear, action and excitement. The plot is fiendishly clever, gripping and twisty enough to make it difficult to guess what’s coming next. It’s a little long but that’s Kepler’s style, go with it, you’ll need the pauses in action to draw breath. We didn’t find the last novel Lazarus so convincing but this hits the mark.
See also The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund or The Thirst by Jo Nesbo.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars